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Four Teams Pitch at IUP Business School Shark Tank Event

Posted on 4/25/2016 8:08:56 AM

On April 21, ExcEL Center codirectors John Lipinski and Joette Wisnieski hosted IUP’s third annual Shark Tank event. Shark Tank is one of three business plan competitions available for IUP students to develop their entrepreneurial ideas, sharpen their presentation skills, and compete for prize money to support their projects. These competitions are an important bridge to help students take their ideas from the classroom and understand the rigorous screening that investors will apply to their projects.

Shark Tank 2016 AttendeesFour experienced judges served to review the student presentations and ask probing key questions. Laurie Kuzneski, of the Kuzneski Financial Group, and Malcolm Handelsman, managing director of Do It Right and president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Keiretsu Forum, served as judges at all three events. Joining them were first-time participants Stephan Mueller, COO of Thrill Mill, a Pittsburgh-based business incubator, and Megan White, regional manager with First Commonwealth Bank. Together, the panel members brought the viewpoints of individuals who serve emerging entrepreneurs as mentors, angel investors, and financiers.

Four competitors presented a variety of business concepts. Marissa Fornaro, who has participated in all three IUP Shark Tank events, led off the competition presenting her concept for WHALE ad selection, a tool to help combat ad blocker software. Following her was Ed Foley, presenting his concept for Bethlehem’s Baskets, a joint effort with IUP students in Palestine to produce gift baskets from the Holy Land that will both be used as fundraisers for U.S.-based churches and to provide employment opportunities for chronically underemployed Palestinians. Colin Gaspar, a former college athlete, presented his concept for Concussion Cares, a not-for-profit that is actively partnering with a number of key constituents to bring another level of care for concussion victims to college sports teams.

This year’s winner was Adam Stein, the first MBA student to participate in Shark Tank. Adam presented his concept for FilterGo, a product that allows contractors and do-it-yourself remodelers to turn a simple box fan into a high-volume air filter that eliminates much of the dust from the air during these messy projects. Adam was awarded $1,000 to assist with the continued development of his project. He commented, “I am honored to have participated in this year’s Shark Tank competition. All of the competitors presented great ideas. Events like this are valuable extensions from the classroom; allowing students to showcase their ideas while also honing skills that will be valuable after graduation.”

The audience had two bonus guests, the winners of Shark Tank I and Shark Tank II who updated the audience on the progress of their projects. Ryan Brannon, winner of Shark Tank I, now has 10 employees working on the dissemination of his New Leaf app. Olivia Topolski unveiled the working prototype of her self-adhering cell phone case Selfarazzi, which enables users to stick their phone to the wall for photos, and announced that she would soon be selling her product on Amazon.com. It is quite a leap to take a business concept from the classroom and actually begin to market a product. Both past winners have done just that.

The ExcEL Center at IUP works to help students realize their entrepreneurial dreams. Through education, networking, and competition, students learn what it takes to move beyond the idea stage to building a business plan to launching a concept. Watch for two future developments in 2016 at the ExcEL Center. Idea Lab is launching and will work across the campus to uncover innovative ideas and match innovators with teammates to advance those ideas towards marketable products and services, and IUP will be partnering with Thrill Mill, which will make incubator space available to the IUP community at Thrill Mill’s East Liberty location.

Eberly College of Business and Information Technology